Traffic officer Kevin O’Neill speaks with Magnolia resident and blogger Steve Smalley during National Coffee with a Cop Day.
Traffic officer Kevin O’Neill speaks with Magnolia resident and blogger Steve Smalley during National Coffee with a Cop Day.

In the spirit of fostering a comfortable environment for engagement with residents, West Precinct Seattle Police officers shared coffee and conversation with community members during National Coffee with a Cop Day on Wednesday, Oct. 3.

Free coffee and small pastry servings were provided at the Starbucks on Elliot Avenue West. Residents were welcome to engage with local police officers and sound off on whatever they thought the authorities needed to know. And, maybe, they’d learn more about each other in the process.

West Precinct Capt. Tom Mahaffey said outreach events like Coffee with a Cop offers police officers one-on-one interaction that helps them get a better idea of what the concerns are in the community.

“It allows people and officers to interact in a way that’s a more normal circumstance, a one-on-one situation,” Mahaffey said. “It’s not a crisis that [police] are investigating or an emergency; it’s not someone that’s been the victim of a crime. That’s a little bit of a different dynamic than when you can just come and have a discussion with somebody. Sure, we’re gonna talk about what issues people are experiencing that we can help them with, but it’s also just a good time to have a conversation and get to know somebody.”

Conversation was abundant and mostly cordial last Wednesday, though not without its share of complaints and grievances.

Steve Smalley, a Magnolia resident and blogger, made no bones about the fact that he was attending to vent his frustrations about experiencing communication issues with the police department. After a recent fatal collision occurred on Thorndyke Avenue West, Smalley wanted to know why he couldn’t get more information about it sooner. He said he was tired of being sent to a public information officer.

West Precinct Sgt. Lora Alcantara explained the department’s public information policy. Traffic officer Kevin O’Neill added that, in general, he doesn’t always want to keep people in the dark.

“Want to know something from a police officer’s point of view? I do want to talk to you,” O’Neill said.

Steven Levy, a Queen Anne resident of 25 years, came partly out of curiosity and also to discuss some of the “little less-pleasant things” he noticed in his community.

“I’m a child of the ‘60s, so my willingness to talk to a cop … ” he said, trailing off to indicate his reluctance to speak with police.

While talking with officers, Levy mentioned the prevalence of things like graffiti and property damage that makes his neighborhood feel less safe. Seeing those fixes and repairs happen around the community “is a small thing,” Levy acknowledged, “but it helps.”

Brian Burns, a Magnolia resident and business owner, was more direct about his grievances with law enforcement. Five days prior, Burns responded to a 3 a.m. break-in that occurred at the Magnolia Shell station owned by his business partner. Burns said the authorities were called at 3:07 a.m., then again at 3:40 a.m. Officers didn’t arrive until 4:22 a.m.

The vandals made off with $15,000 worth of beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets. Security cameras even caught the looters leaving the scene of the crime and then returning to steal more items. Police later said the 911 call wasn’t originally classified as an emergency.

“From the standpoint of safety and security, they should’ve been there faster,” Burns said.

Burns was told that Magnolia only had one officer on duty at the time, and the officer had to wait for backup, to which Burns sympathized. But he also wondered what would’ve happened if backup wasn’t available?

His complaint didn’t end there. Burns said police were slow to assign the case to a detective, even though he was sending them tips where some of the stolen lottery tickets were being cashed. It wasn’t until a KIRO-TV news report aired, Burns said, that a detective was finally assigned to the case and gained traction.

Burns said he believes such instances of slow police response deter the community from reporting crime. On Wednesday, he said he was still looking for answers from the police department, but he did have a suggestion for how to improve police responses.

“What I think should be done is, like, if you have AAA: they update you on when they’ll arrive,” he said. “How come they can’t do that on a low-priority call? That way, you know they’re still coming.”